In a bold if belated move Joe Girardi demoted Mark Teixeira to seventh in the line-up. This was back on May 21st, after the Yankees had gotten pounded by (gulp) the Royals 6-0, going 0-13 with runners in scoring position, their worst hitless streak in that situation since 1990. That, combined with the “inspirational words” of noted motivational speakers Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi, seemed to right the ship. The talk seemed to have the effect of a “Jedi mind-trick” on Alex Rodriguez who stated robotically afterwards that “Joe gave us a great talk … we have a lot of faith in him.” He proceeded to hit two homeruns in the next game.
The online commentariat have been buzzing with criticisms of Joe Girardi. He doesn’t play small-ball, he doesn’t bunt or steal, and this year anyway, he seems to have made an unfortunate series of dumb moves regarding his pitchers (opening day, intentional walk, Carlos Pena, grand slam). All of the above is, of course, true – but are his actions either causing the slump or lengthening its duration? The Yankees rank 22nd in the league in stolen bases with 23 and 9th in stolen base percentage (79%). This suggests that Girardi, in perfect keeping with sabermetric research, values the potential out more than advancing a runner into scoring position – the Yankees have only been caught stealing six times, confirming their conservatism in this regard.
On defense, the Rays, Orioles, and Indians rank first, second, and third respectively in calling “the shift” , as of May 12th more than any other teams in MLB. Again, respectively, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Cleveland have called the shift 171, 95 and 81 times so far this season, when compared to years past, represents doubling, even tripling, of this defense from the previous years. Consider that Tampa Bay, Baltimore, and Cleveland are on track to call the shift 695, 386 and 342 times for this season. The Yankees, meanwhile, have called the shift only 54 times this year, and are on pace to reach perhaps 282 times for the year. By cause or coincidence, the Orioles and Rays sit atop the AL East with the two best records in the American League, while the Indians are in first place in the Central Division.
In their last ten games, the Yankees are 4-6. They have a -10 run differential, producing only 34 runs while giving up 44. Even if you factor out their loss to the Blue Jays by a touchdown and the extra point, they still have a -2 run differential. Their bats have been as useless wRISP and with the exception of Derek Jeter, their bats have been inconsistent. If the long ball ain’t happening, wouldn’t it be wise to make something happen on offense, say, by ordering up a steal or two? Calling for a bunt? A squeeze-play perhaps? Maybe Teixeira should have been demoted, like a month ago, and A-Rod along with him?
Well, perhaps these might be reasonable requests, if Joe Girardi were someone else, and if he were managing another team. Why not ask the Yankees to twirl basketballs on their fingertips ala the second most famous team to come out of New York City – the Harlem Globetrotters? The simple fact is, the Yankees are injured, their pitching sucks, we’re stuck with a series of bad contracts, and to paraphrase Kevin Costner’s Jim Garrison, “we seem to be through the looking glass here, people.” Consider:
- If the post-season began tomorrow, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Texas would be divisional winners with Tampa Bay and Chicago the wildcards. In the National League, Washington, Cincinnati, and Los Angeles win their respective divisions, while Atlanta and St Louis play for a wildcard spot. That’s right – Baltimore, Cleveland, and Washington would all be divisional winners! Baltimore has the best record in the American League and Los Angeles the best in baseball. Meanwhile, the three most expensive payrolls, the Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox, occupy second-to-last, last, and last respectively. White is black and black is white this year. That’s not Girardi’s doing.
- Brett Gardner, the team’s best bunter, and steals leader, is injured.
- Closers have cost the Yankees two games this year. Both Mariano Rivera and David Roberts blew a save a piece, both against the Rays. Rivera’s blown save came on opening day and Roberts’ came after he inherited the closing role following Rivera’s season-ending ACL tear. Say the Yankees had won those games, we’d be sitting at 25 wins and 19 losses, in third place, and only 3.5 games out of first place.
- Aside from the opening day loss to Tampa Bay, Girardi hasn’t cost the Yankees any quality start-wins by waiting too long to pull a pitcher. In other words, the Yankees haven’t lost yet this year because Girardi failed to pull a starting pitcher in the 6th inning before he throws that fateful pitch. To be sure, this has a lot to do with Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes, and Freddie Garcia getting knocked out of 7 games this year prior to the fourth inning, producing no-brainers for Girardi. On the other hand, when you view Girardi’s managerial performance in light of the calamity that has become the Yankee starting rotation; he’s actually done an amazing job!
When you think about it, the manager position is actually quite reactive. They don’t determine the architecture of the team, nor do they have anything to do with player development, scouting, or farm teams. They control the batting order, when to pull a starting pitcher, and which reliever to substitute. The inverse proportions between Alex Rodriguez increasing paycheck and annual decline in performance is not Girardi’s doing. But, when the going gets tough, it’s a lot easier for the Steinbrenners bros and henchman Brian Cashman to rid themselves of Girardi’s remaining six million dollar contract than A-Rod’s $25 million.
Then again, Joe Girardi put together a masterful performance last year, stitching together a “Franken-pitching-staff” and making the playoffs for the third consecutive time in his career. It’s not his fault if Teixeira and A-Rod didn’t show up last year for the playoffs. Likewise this year, Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, and Mariano Rivera’s injuries can’t be chalked up to bad management. Quite the contrary – the Yankees are sitting above .500, and in any other American League conference, they’d be in second place.